Academic journal article Hecate

Sexuality in East-West Encounters: Shanghai Baby and Mistaken Love

Academic journal article Hecate

Sexuality in East-West Encounters: Shanghai Baby and Mistaken Love

Article excerpt

This paper examines two pieces of Chinese female writing, Shanghai Baby and Mistaken Love. (1) Shanghai Baby is a self-declared semi-autobiography by Zhou Weihui, a controversial Shanghai-based woman writer who when publishing dispenses with her patronymic, Zhou. Mistaken Love is a Chinese-Australian autobiographical novelette by Shi Guoying, a Sydney-based Chinese woman writer whose earlier article on relationships between Chinese women and Western men roused a furore in the Chinese-Australian community. Shi's argument is that Chinese men are inferior to Western men in bedroom skills: 'Eight out of ten Western men are sensational, and two out of ten are ordinary; while two out of ten Chinese men are ordinary and eight out of ten are pathetic.' (2)

Both texts explore female experiences-especially sexual-in an international perspective. Through the prism of these two writings, I will look at often highly contentious not to say scandalous trends in the representation of sexuality in Chinese (including ethnic or diasporic Chinese) literature today. A further consideration, developed only tentatively below but of great symptomatic meaning for the contemporary development of Chinese cultural politics, is the convergence of Chinese literary and personal-political concerns across national boundaries, and the emergence of a transnational Chinese literature whose globally dispersed practitioners open up new horizons for one another, in dizzying interaction.

Weihui belongs to a literary tendency known to the official literary mainstream as xin sheng dai (usually rendered as 'nascent generation') but which calls itself wenxue xin renlei (new literary humanity). Shanghai Baby is perhaps best known, both inside and outside China, for its banning by the mainland authorities in the summer of 2000, when the official Chinese propaganda machine denounced it as 'vampish' pornography and vilified its author as 'a decadent and debauched exhibitionist, a slave to foreign culture, an outlandish creature of the night, a writer of bad-taste trash.' (3) It was a bestseller in China until its removal from the bookstalls, and also sold well in Japan.

Shi Guoying is another modern-day 'disreputable' woman writer. Unlike the mainlander Weihui, however, Shi Guoying is an overseas (or diasporic) Chinese who usually sets her plots both in China and abroad (mainly Australia). She maintains close ties with Chinese literary circles: her works are mostly published in mainland journals. Her texts explore everyday confrontations with sexual and cultural identities beyond narrowly defined 'racial' and national boundaries. Yet despite her transilience, her work hardly outdoes Weihui's in cosmopolitan scope, for Weihui's perceptions derive from Shanghai's international community, in some ways even less narrowly bounded than the world of Shi Guoying.

Both texts are preoccupied with the body and sexuality. Their authors seek to identify the moments of female empowerment or despair in the visible and invisible war of the sexes waged in bed (and in other venues). More often than not, the woman has the upper hand in this bedroom fight. Yet her superiority is, all the same, defined by man, the seeming loser. (This is illustrated by a mainland adage from the 1990s: Top beauties date Yanks, middle beauties date overseas Chinese, third-class beauties date rich [Chinese] businessmen.)

Weihui's Shanghai Baby tells the story of Coco, the novel's female protagonist. Coco is simultaneously attached to two men, a Chinese (Tiantian) and a German (Mark). Tiantian is an effeminate type who depends for his livelihood on his mother, currently residing overseas. His sexual impotence justifies Coco's two-timing him, since for her 'women by nature unconsciously connect sex and spiritual love.' (4) However, he is still capable of giving

Coco love. A drug-addict, he dies of a heroin overdose.

Mark, by contrast, is strong, sensual, and capable of giving Coco sexual satisfaction. …

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